Brynne Shannon is a student at the College of Charleston and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Brynne is currently studying abroad with TEAN in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Wai-ing Ronald McDonald

When I began my process of looking into studying abroad, I first had to ask myself the question: what it is that I am looking for in an experience overseas? Did I want to go back to my European roots and go to Germany or Ireland? Did I want to explore the lush scenery and beaches of South America or even Australia or New Zealand? I thought about all of these things for a long time, but none of them seemed to scream out to me.  Then one day, my friend who studied in Tibet recommended that I look into Southeast Asia. I looked at her like she was crazy, and then stepped back and thought about it for a few minutes because I have always been interested in Eastern religions and philosophy, so maybe she had a point. I decided to check it out at my study abroad office and my advisor handed me a mountain of brochures and books about programs in SE Asia. I flipped through all of them for hours, multiple times, but the one I always kept coming back to was the TEAN Thailand booklet. I was immediately drawn to this program because it seemed to have a nice balance of structure and independent activity along with some really cool excursions. The more I researched, the more I realized I wanted my study abroad experience to be more than just me studying in a foreign country. I wanted to completely immerse myself in an entirely new culture. I wanted a 180-degree flip from everything I had ever known and grown up with, so what better place to choose than Thailand, a developing Buddhist country with a tonal spoken language and a written language of script that looks like loops and swirls upon first glance?  I decided to take the plunge. I sent in my application, crossed my fingers for a few days, and was relieved when I was notified that I had been accepted into the program.

I spent the next 4 months or so researching and daydreaming about Thailand in my spare time. Because I was about to dive into a culture unfamiliar to me, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into before I showed up in January. I read up on Thai cultural do’s and don’t, traditions, and anything and everything else I could find on the internet and in bookstores. Little did I know that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into…

The day finally arrived for me to say goodbye to my beloved family, friends, and country. I was eager to get out so I practically ran onto the plane with no hesitation. This was my first time travelling internationally, and alone at that, so it was quite the adventure for me. Luckily my 30-some hours of travel went very smoothly.

When I stepped off the plane in Bangkok, I was greeted with a crashing wave of sweltering heat and humidity. The flight attendants gracefully waied (a Thai cultural bow) to me and greeted me with a melodic “Sawasdee Ka”. Chills ran up and down my spine. I could not believe it….I was finally in Thailand!

The first week was spent in Bangkok, a chaotic whirl of a city. Although it is an awesome place, it was an intense introduction to Thailand. While it was interesting to see the country’s capital, Bangkok is not necessarily an accurate representation of the country as a whole, because the majority of the country is comprised of small villages. We were all happy when we got on the train to Chiang Mai because we were looking forward to a more authentic Thai experience.

Brynne2

Looking back, my first few days in Chiang Mai are somewhat of a blur. I was still getting used to the idea that I was on my own in a country 11,000 miles away from home. What really helped my transition, though, was my roommate. The great thing about this program is that it pairs you with a Thai student to live with for the semester. I was nervous about how this would go—would the language barrier be an issue? Would we be interested in the same things? Would she want to hang out with me? I look back on these questions I constantly asked and have to laugh to myself. There are no words to express how thankful I am to have been placed with this girl. She has taught me so much about Thailand that I would have never learned if I had roomed with another American. She has given me an inside perspective on the amazing culture that radiates throughout this country. But more on that in my next post…